In the fifth of our Backcountry Guides series Chamonix Mountain Guide Guy Willet explains what to look for in avalanche search and rescue equipment and how to use it.
A person buried by an avalanche, who has not been killed by the trauma of the slide, will typically have a fifteen minute survival window before they succumb to asphyxiation due to re-breathing their own expelled Carbon Dioxide. Although the emergency services in the Alps are highly trained and efficient they cannot usually arrive at an avalanche accident site quick enough to save a victim. It is therefore essential that every member of an off piste group is carrying the following equipment:
Avalanche transceiver - Also known as a Beeper or Avalanche Beacon this device is worn by each member of the group. Whilst worn it sends out a silent pulse. In the event of a burial the victims beeper continues to send out a signal while the remaining members of the group turn their beacons from transmit to receive. Using the information sent back from the buried beeper the group are able to locate the approximate position of the victim under the snow.
Probe Pole - The second piece of equipment used in the search and rescue is a collapsible probe pole. This is carried in a backpack and is used to pin point the buried victim ensuring that no time is wasted digging in the wrong place.
Shovel - Finally the collapsible shovel is employed to move the covering snow and free the victim. Moving a cubic metre of snow with a shovel takes minutes but without one it can take up to an hour.
With this equipment a group will be able to carry out a self contained rescue and should be able to recover a buried friend in under ten minutes.For more information visit our Avalanche Safety page.